These popular, spiced, gingerbread-like cookies are one of those unique holiday treats that are hard to find off-season in a typical grocery store. They are easy, festive and they ship well for sending in gift packages.
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What are Pfeffernusse Cookies?
Pfeffernusse are small spiced, gingerbread-like cookies that are extremely popular as a holiday treat in Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.
They are quite popular in the US also, and have certainly become a traditional cookie for our household during the Christmas season.
The name Pfeffernuesse means “pepper nuts.” The pepper part refers to the white pepper that is added to the dough which gives these cookies a very unique and flavorful touch. The “nuts“ part of the name does not mean it contains nuts, but rather refers to the traditional walnut-like size and shape.
Homemade Pfeffernusse vs Store-Bought
The pfeffernusse cookie recipe below has become a traditional Christmas treat in our household for sure. It started when I sent them to my daughter in a college care package, and she has requested them every year since!
After that first Christmas care package, my daughter tried to finding these little cookies later on in the grocery stores to no avail. That’s not a bad thing however. Keeping food items seasonal just enhances the desire for them and keeps them special.
The other reason they are not easily found in grocery stores is because they are sooo much better made from scratch. Grocery store premade pfeffernusse cookies tend to be bland and stale.
Everything about homemade pfeffernusse is better than storebought. The flavor, the texture, and of course the love that is cooked right into them during the holidays.
Traditional Ingredients and Substitutions
Because pfeffernusse cookies have been popular for so long, different cooks have come up with tons of variations. Though recipes differ, most recipes contain aromatic spices – most commonly cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, cardamom, anise, and/or white pepper.
You will often find Pfeffernüsse coated one of two ways, either with a hard icing coating or a powdered sugar coating.
Molasses and honey are typically used to sweeten the cookies and give them the traditional chewy, somewhat dense texture.
They look beautiful on a cookie tray surrounded by lighter colored cookies, like these lemon thumbprint cookies.
How to Store or Freeze Pfeffernusse Cookies
While storebought pfeffernusse cookies can be quite stale, the flavor of the homemade version seems to deepen and sharpen with age.
Although delicious when first baked, they are better after “resting” for a week or so. So if you plan to enjoy these cookies for Christmas, you’ll want to make them soon.
Store them in an airtight container and they will stay fresh for a full week or two, making them a perfect cookie for a care package! And, they freeze beautifully if you want to get your Christmas cookies made before the onslaught of this busy season.
Perfect for Shipping in Care Packages
Even though my kids are no longer in college, we all have fond memories of the care packages I sent around each holiday. It definitely helps to keep the connections close.
The main thing to know when putting together care packages with homemade food, is that it needs to be something that keeps well and is not too crumbly.
Care packages typically take a few days to reach their recipient and then the treats may not be eaten immediately. It is important therefore to make sure food items don’t dry out or fall apart after sitting for a few days (or weeks).
These Pfeffernusse cookies were successful, staying fresh and soft in a sealed container for 2 weeks. Plus, the flavor was awesome! Just make sure they are packaged securely and then sit back and enjoy the love.
Other Treats that Ship Well (for Care Packages)
Here are a few other sweet treats I have sent in care packages that not only made it long distances safely, but received rave reviews:
Recipe for Pfeffernusse Cookies
- medium saucepan
- large bowl
- ½ cup molasses
- ¼ cup honey
- ½ cup butter
- 2 eggs slightly beaten
- 2 tsp anise extract
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ cups white sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 ½ tsp ground cardamom grind it fresh if possible
- 1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground cloves freshly ground if possible
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper can use 2 tsp white pepper for color
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup powdered sugar for dusting
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine molasses,honey, and butter and cook, stirring frequently. Cook until creamy and thoroughly mixed together. Remove from heat and allow to cool. When mixture is cool, stir in the eggs and the anise extract.1/2 cup molasses, 1/4 cup honey, 1/2 cup butter, 2 eggs, 2 tsp anise extract
- In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, including the flour, sugars, and spices (but not the powdered sugar). Add the molasses mixture and stir together thoroughly. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.4 cups all-purpose flour, 3/4 cups white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom, 1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg, 1 tsp ground cloves, 1 tsp ground ginger, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp salt
- Preheat oven to 325° F. Let the dough thaw slightly so it is pliable enough to roll into balls. Roll into small balls, about 1 1/4″ in size. Place on baking sheet, about 1″ apart (they don’t spread much but they do get a little bigger when baked).
- Bake for 10-12 minutes, they should be slightly brown on the bottom. Cool a minute on the sheet and then transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely. Use a sifter to dust cookies with powdered sugar.1 cup powdered sugar
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